tv Tavis Smiley PBS September 24, 2013 12:00am-12:31am PDT
at a professor of history boston university he joins us tonight from that campus. good to have you on the program. thanks for your time. >> thank you for having me on. >> how have we as americans failed our soldiers? surface americans hold their soldiers in very high regard. on publict manifested occasions whether it is the super bowl or the world series. my argument is that that is pretty thin. and substantively we have not provided support. i think the proper expression of support should be that we would want to ensure that our soldiers are never sent and harm's way unless absolutely necessary. when they go to fight the fight
in wars that are properly managed. as a practical matter neither of those has retained create we have allowed a government to dispatch our soldiers to unnecessary wars with iraq being the principal example. afghanistan,and our soldiers have been subjected to mismanaged, poorly managed wars and the american people for the most part have stood aside and simply allow that to happen. >> i take your logic, let me present little further. when you look at polls and studies and surveys, even the president with this mess that we have gotten into with syria has said repeatedly he knows the american public is were wary. i you saying that the american public at large, those of us who make up the electric have let the soldiers down? person to occupy the oval
office, who said on capitol hill and make these decisions in our name, they have let the soldiers down. those are two different things, i think. >> i do not know. i think they are connected. we have allowed this people who we elected to get away with perpetrating ill-advised policies. we have not insisted upon accountability. i am not even persuaded by the argument that in the recent syria crisis that the american people opposed intervention because we are were wary. it is impossible for us to be war weary since we have been detached from the war. i think americans have become somewhat skeptical of war. thatse the expectations prevailed among -- one with went into afghanistan and first went into iraq, those expectations obviously turned out to be false. we are not war weary, we are
were skeptical. that is a more accurate description. tavis: let me ask you what you expected that we have not delivered. what is it that we ought to do? if you look at polls and surveys and studies there are americans who are tired of this but once president obama has been elected, there's only so much accountability we have once he has been elected. once these members have been elected. until the next election cycle there is only so much accountability. what should we be doing? >> that is a fair argument. the book tries to provide a version of u.s. military history going all the way back to the founding of the republic. that version of military history emphasizes that up until the vietnam war, the citizen soldier, not the professional soldier provided a cornerstone of our military system.
after vietnam for reasons that are quite understandable given the catastrophe that vietnam was. we jettisoned that tradition and embraced with the founders would have called the standing army. i believe that is -- the standing army has of basis for our present military system has produced very negative consequences. when you say what am i asking the american people to do, i am asking the american people to reconsider that tradition of the citizen-soldier and to recognize that an inherent in our concept of citizenship, should be some obligation to come to the defense of the country when indeed the country is in jeopardy. tavis: that raises a question and a comment. are you suggesting we ought to reinstate the draft? theke your point about citizen-soldier, by the same token, you have the president and members of congress setting us on stupid missions, why would
i sign up for that? >> i would hope you would sign up for that because my argument would be that if indeed the citizen-soldier was the cornerstone of our military policy, that would reduce the likelihood that the people in washington would behave recklessly and use our soldiers stupidly. to your first question i am not proposing a resumption of the draft. i accept that politically it is not feasible. i am suggesting in the book we ought to have a conversation about adopting a system of national service. what i mean by that is that all would perform a term of service to country and community, some of them in uniform in the military. the remainder in some other capacity. whether teaching for america, peace corps, preserving the
environment, taking care of the elderly. everyone serves. my argument is that that would both close the gap between the military and society and arguably give us a more responsible approach to using our military, and also would enrich the concept of citizenship by making the point that citizenship is not simply exercising her additives but involves accepting obligations. >> i take your point about citizenship and i could not agree with you more and that regard. that -- thoseto who make the tough decision to protect the rest of us when they sign up for military service. i am a military brat so i understand this as well as anyone else. what i am pressing on is in the coming months and years how do we make this turn, how do we do what you are suggesting ought to be done in this book.
if the history in the rearview mirror, the recent history is that of the rack where soldiers lost their lives over something that was absurd in the minds of many of us and we are going to draw a line in the sand with syria. i am trying to find out how it is if people look at wars of choice versus wars of necessity, how that convinces them to do their civic duty as a military enlistee. >> great question. i make two points. the first is i do not pretend to suggest that this idea of the military service is itself going to be an easy sell. to health comparison care reform. that the late senator from my state, senator ted kennedy made health care reform his project. , he keptr 30 years talking about it. he kept pressing it. he got it on the agenda. president obama rarely gets a tremendous amount of credit for being the president to put
things over the top but senator kennedy was the champion of health care reform. we are going need a champion of national service. the second point is come a why would anybody agreed to serve in any capacity given our pretense -- our propensity for stupid wars, the issue there is there is a great urgency to critically assess what our infatuation with military power has achieved, especially in the greater middle the past 30out years or so. it is time for us to recognize that not simply that we failed anorak or afghanistan is likely to have an unhappy ending, it is time for us to recognize that ever since ronald reagan sent marines into beirut in the early 1980's down to the present achieve ourailed to purposes. we are not making the region more stable or more democratic. we are not making the people of the islamic world like us any better. only if we pragmatically and
realistically assess the failures of u.s. military policy in the greater the least are we going to begin to wean ourselves from our overemphasis on military power and therefore get to a point where young americans are going to be more willing to serve. let me close with this question. there is only one united states senator, sitting senator who served in vietnam, that would be john mccain. john kerry is now secretary of state. have persons throughout congress who served in military combat. who then do you expect to be the ambassador for this and tell me how this issue gets better before gets worse if you do not have folks folks serving in government who served in the military? >> you're doing a good job of
identifying the weaknesses in my argument. i have to say that the guy i had hoped would take it on with senator jim webb from virginia. both in terms of his background, in terms of his outlook, in terms of having a son who served in the marine corps. he seemed to me to be the kind of guy who could take this on and it really disappointed me when after one term in the senate, he decided that he had had enough and he retired. difficult lace to get things done but i digress. -- place to get things done but i digress. "breach of is trust: how americans failed their soldiers and country." you on the program. thank you for your insights. >> thank you. writer nadjia said.
stay with us. brilliant and demanding father was something of a mixed blessing. she was caught between two worlds, the rigorous intellectual domain of her parents and the prep school in which she was raised. she has written a new memoir entitled "looking for palestin:, growing up confused in an arab- american family." let me ask the question. how does the daughter -- you know the question already. >> how does the daughter of edward said have no idea where she is from? it is easy. >> let's get that out of the way. >> these are my answers.
abi am stupid. i was a a little kid. my father is not that clear cut. he was known for being palestinian, people assume that palestine was a very readily available information that palestine was a place i high -- that i had been. but hewas palestinian was negligent professor. he did not have an accent. he spoke arabic and he spoke english. were all sorts of question. i did not fit into any of the -- the irony is that my dad wrote orientalism" which is about how we have these different representations of people from the middle east in popular culture. i was completely full buy them myself. i did not really -- i did not fit in. i did not think i was in error because i did not fit in any of
those things that were given to me. i was not muslim. i was not brown. i was not whatever all the things i was supposed to be. tavis: let me jump ahead. thank you for the question. thanks for the answer. let me jump ahead and i promise to come back. that, have you figured it out now or are you figuring it out still? >> i think i am figuring it out. sense, what in a is that there is no answer. -- identitydepends is a fluid thing. i am arab, i am not arab. i am american, i am not american. arab-american felt like it never fit. one of the things i learned in the journey of writing this and the play that i write before it is there is no -- you're not
going to find an answer. identity is this, we are all mixed up. it depends on what you -- the book came out of a play that i wrote. we entitled to play "palestine" is a did not know what to call from ai got an award feminist organization. if i called the play "woman," what i have gotten an award from palestinian organization question market i? that argument cuts to different ways. it is a beautiful mosaic. it is a beautiful mix and one does not necessarily have to figure out, one can embrace all aspects of it is part and parcel of who you are. and i get that. on the other hand, if one does not figure something out, then one lives in a state of confusion and i do not know if that is where we want to be
either or you want. >> is tricky because what happens is even -- i learned this i questioning my father. was i came of age and that in high school and college in the 1990s, clinical correctness -- political correctness, it everyone was something-american at that point. my father told me he did not really believe that we should, everyone should sort of assert their identity. to say african-american. even though you should be proud of where you are from. being american, the idea of america being this melting pot, he becomes a problem because it is like you're trying trying to assimilate into something that is supposed to be mixed. sortamerican thing becomes of muddled. i get that. washe same time i thought i very proud of being arab and palestinian. that part that i struggled with,
what i realized is what happens is that becomes an identity in itself. you do not fit the stereotype of that era-american or african- american. you feel like you do not belong. what it is is finding that even labels,hese identity that there is friday and difference and there is variations. >> when you are all of that and then some and this is a fascinating book because we live in a country that is more multicultural, more multiracial, more multiethnic than ever before and we also live in a country where all of that is what makes up this new generation of kids. if you think you are missing a lot of stuff, stick around for another 50 years, we are all going -- the kids will be mixed up. how does one come to terms then in terms of living your own life, and being ok with all that
you are. how does one come to peace with that? >> i think that you have to embrace it and go with it. irish-palestinian, lebanese, he is also to think that his cousin is native american, african american, palestinian, irish. it is going to keep going and you will sort of end up -- we will all end up being a huge makes -- mixes and identities. , whatme to terms with it my parents taught me is a human being is a human being and that is kind of it. i think that one of the things i do miss -- in this book, there , whatlot of my childhood people think. people think i am jewish. maybe i can have equal rights. if i wanted to move to israel.
but it sort of gets confusing. you are palestinian. you are not jewish. you act jewish. what are these labels, how are they serving us, and i think it is good to have a connection to your past and where you are from. it is important but we have to -- what we're doing with those labels and and why we are using them. is it to make ourselves feel are special or is it to have sense of where we're are from and yet continue to move forward and be just him and with the rest of the world. i do not know. tavis: you mentioned this comes out of a play. an off-broadway play. your dad had a chance to see that. >> he saw the first version of it. tavis: what did he make of that? lexi was very proud. he was my father so i always say that. my father and
anything i did, i was the best at it. nobody could do it better than me and i was the most beautiful and the most talented and the most wonderful. so he -- there were many points and things that he was critical of and things i should develop them a especially what is at the end of the book is at the end of the play. he would be like, think more, write more. keep going with that. there is a sense of i get to a point where i am confused and i throw it all out there and i let the audience or the reader think about it. and i do not give answers and if he would have wanted more analysis perhaps. way that i dothe not have any answers or easy fixes for anything. tavis: your dad clearly was an academic and was an advocate. you are an actress. tommy about the pressure that you have -- tell me about the
pressure from people who adored your father and adored his courageous truth telling as an advocate and an academic. how does one who is an actress where that garment? >> it is difficult. there is a couple of different layers of that. on the one hand, there is the sense of prominence and celebrity. when you are the child of who is revered for his ideas and his presence and his sort of humanity and his sense of social justice and his intellect my it is very different than being the child of a movie star. not that that is not a great thing to be but it is different, especially when you want to then become an actor. people think it is going to be easy for you because you have connections. it is actually not. it is more challenging. you have on the one hand people moreant you to be
intellectual. more serious. i did not know i was going to write a book, i wanted to be an actress but i wrote a book which is what my father would have wanted me to do so i feel like a failure. there is that level of it. there is this idea that i am if your father is a doctor you do not necessarily know how to take someone's blood pressure. i think that is the issue. i read about my identity and about myself and my experiences. i am a female. i am of a completely different generation. i am far more american. i write in a much more casual style. my medium is the theater. and so performance and that is not my dad -- he was quite a did speaker and he was very charming and could perform very well but that was not his world. it is difficult because people assume there is a level of intellectual sophistication. that i am going to talk about kicker garter whatever.
i am talking about -- this person is huge admirer of your fathers. professorother, cornell west. he quotes you. your father all the time. hthe line that dissent is the greatest form of patriotism. out of time. before i go there is a funny story. there is some funny stuff in this book. the first time that you met dr. west. you know the punchline. the first time he comes to meet your dad. >> he came over and my father had forgotten about the appointment or was late or something come a was on the other side of town and i opened the door and this and came in. he waited for a bit and i called my dad's office. his assistant was like, he forgot. i went out and i told professor
west, my dad is not here but he will call you to reschedule. he was very sweet and he told me to give my love to brother edward and sister miriam and he said i want to tell you something. do not ever let the strange black man into your house. tavis: even if he is wearing a three-piece black suit. >> very funny. tavis: i thought that was a funny story. with her book "looking for palestine." great cover photo. that is our show for tonight. thanks for watching. as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a abrahms.ion with j.j.